The great escape: quilt retreats

Posted by on September 24, 2012, in quilting & sewing,

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Wonderland RetreatsAh, bliss. Away from home for a weekend (or a week!) with your sewing machine, your good friends, and a stack of projects you’ve been itching to stitch. Who can resist the lure of a quilt retreat? (Right: Wonderland Retreats, Poulsbo, Washington)

If you’ve attended a quilters’ retreat, you’ve likely experienced the wonderful joy and energy that result when a group of creative, like-minded people come together. If you’ve never been to one, allow me to introduce you to the world of the quilting getaway.

What is a quilt retreat?
At its essence, a retreat is an opportunity to focus totally on your passion. It may be a weeklong class at a national conference, a cruise with a well-known teacher, a guild activity, or a weekend at your friend’s beach house with a few of your best buds. I think each of these can be considered a retreat of sorts, since they all involve getting away from the daily routine to spend time doing what you love. The sort of retreat that I’m most familiar with is small, close to home, and not affiliated with a shop or organization. A group of friends will choose a weekend, book a local retreat house (or the above-mentioned beach house!), and start planning projects.

Quilt retreat invitation--from Time to QuiltThe first retreat I ever attended was around 1999, when I went on a guild retreat with a hundred or so other Busy Bees. It was at a YMCA camp, and it was a blast! That was my introduction to the world of makeshift design walls, machines humming all night long, impromptu singing, and The Snack Table. I don’t think I’d seen that much junk food in one place since I left college a very long time ago.

Since then, I’ve learned that I prefer sewing with a small group where we can chat, laugh, share delicious meals, get new ideas for quilts, and sometimes, help each other out with difficult patterns. We even have a good-natured “Duh” award, for when you’ve done something dopey like sewn the same seam incorrectly three times because you’re too busy talking to pay attention. (That’s one reason simple quilting patterns are very popular retreat projects!)

What happens at a quilt retreat?
Well, that depends. If you attend a retreat arranged by a shop or at a conference, you’re probably signing up to take a specific class. For example, the fabulous Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar, California, offer 5-day workshops with internationally known teachers.

There are retreats that combine a schedule of classes with lots of free sewing time to work on your own projects. Here’s one being hosted by four popular bloggers: Jeni Baker, Heather Jones, Faith Jones, and Brenda Ratliff. It’s scheduled for early December, the perfect time to finish up holiday gifts.

The retreats that my friends and I organize don’t involve any sort of formal instruction. We each decide what projects we’ll work on (“deciding” being a flexible term, since we often bring along at least four more projects than we’ll ever have time for). We set up our work space, and then we get busy. Sometimes we’ll break for a nice long walk or to visit a local quilt shop, but mostly we just sew…and sew…and sew, with lots of talking and laughing to go along with it.

For me, some of that sewing is dedicated to a baby quilt or a charity project. I like to bring along several super-easy projects that I know I can put together quickly and that won’t be affected by a glass of wine or two. One of my go-to books for these projects is Fast and Fun First Quilts:

Nest quilt from 'Fast and Fun First Quilts'
This quilt is called “Nest.” I made a smaller version of this for a baby quilt and it’s adorable!

Another book with great retreat projects is Take 5:
'Crosses the Line' quilt from 'Take Five'
This project is called “Crosses the Line,” and it makes a quick charity quilt.

Time to Quilt eBookSome retreats offer special services, such as a massage therapist or a “quilter’s helper” whose job is to help with the pressing or unsewing or whatever else needs doing. With a little research, you can arrange for this sort of luxury at your own retreat. Anne Moscicki provides lots of great ideas like this in her book about planning and hosting retreats, Time to Quilt: Fun Quilts and Retreat Ideas for 1 or 101.

What about lodging and food?
There are different types of accommodations available: full service, self service, and variations of both. At a full-service retreat, your meals are generally provided, as are all linens and other amenities. Full-service retreats might be held at a hotel, a conference center, or even a facility designed specifically for retreats. With a self-service retreat, you’re often booking the facility only, and you’re responsible for providing your own meals (or eating out). Most quilters I know are great cooks who love to eat, so planning and preparing meals is part of the fun. In my group, we plan four meals: Friday dinner, Saturday brunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch. We used to make breakfast and lunch but found we had too much food left over at the end of the weekend, so the brunch plan works well for us. A different person will volunteer to plan and prepare each meal, and those who don’t prepare a meal help with the prep and the cleanup. I’ve never gone hungry at a retreat, but I have come home with some killer recipes!

The Wild Rose Quilt Shop Retreat CenterHow do you find quilt retreats?
By now you’re saying “Sign me up! I’m ready to run away.” So how do you find a retreat? Start by checking with local quilt guilds and shops. There’s a good chance there’s a retreat on the schedule already. If you want to put together your own retreat with some friends, a good place to find a facility is the Internet. A quick search turned up two great sources of information: The Quilters’ Travel Companion is primarily a directory of shops across the US and Canada, but it also includes a listing of 52 retreat facilities in 24 states. Time for Quilting provides information on retreats, cruises, shows, and more. (Left: Wild Rose Quilt Shop and Retreat Center, Orting, Washington.)

And now, the testimonials.
I asked some of my friends and coworkers, all of them frequent retreaters, what they like best about going on retreat. The most popular response was “the camaraderie,” followed closely by “laughing with friends,” and “getting away from home responsibilities.” Two of my favorite comments were “eating, drinking, and playing with other creative types,” and “not having to wear make-up.” While the dedicated sewing time is definitely part of the appeal, the opportunity to relax and recharge is equally important.

Asked what, if anything, they don’t like about the retreat experience, this same group was almost unanimous in their responses. “Packing and unpacking”—not only clothes, but sewing machine, tools, fabric, and everything else—and “having to go home” were the least favorite parts. That’s a small price to pay for the benefits gained by dedicating a few precious days to the pursuit of your passion.


So how about you? Have you been to a quilt retreat, or are you still thinking about it? Share your retreat experiences in the comments.


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